Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan Makes Introductory Visit to the Kingdom of Bhutan
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan reaffirmed the friendly bilateral relations between Singapore and Bhutan, on his recent visit to the Kingdom, a first since diplomatic ties were established in 2002. The four-day visit which began on 14 May 2017 was the result of an invitation by his counterpart, Mr Damcho Dorji, and is the first official introductory visit by a sitting Foreign Minister from Singapore.
Accompanied by Singapore’s Ministry officials and Singapore’s current High Commissioner to Bhutan (based in Delhi), Dr Balakrishnan together with his wife, Joy Balakrishnan were granted an audience with Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Queen Jetsun Pema. The meeting was held at the Tashichho Dzong, the magnificent Buddhist sanctuary and fortress having been the seat of Bhutan’s civil government since 1952. Located near the capital city of Thimphu and flanked by the Wangchhu River, the Dzong houses the throne and offices of the King, his secretariat, and the ministries of finance and home affairs.
Office talk revolved around ways to further bilateral cooperation between the two countries. In a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishnan wrote that he was honoured to meet the Bhutanese Royals, and spoke of the King’s keen knowledge of Singapore’s developments. “We had a candid discussion on developments in Bhutan. His Majesty shared his vision of restructuring Bhutan's economy while preserving the rich culture and identity of the Bhutanese.”
In line with these visions, Dr Balakrishnan and Minister for Labour and Human Resources, Lyonpo Ngeema Sangay Tshempo, witnessed the signing of an agreement between Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education Services and the Bhutanese Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, over a collaboration in the field of technical and vocational education and training. The Singaporean Minister also took the time to present books in a handover ceremony to the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs, Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen. This marked the donation of 1,000 books chosen from the Singapore National Library Board to the Bhutan National Library and Archives. “Books are a window to knowledge and wisdom. Like Singapore, Bhutan recognises the importance of investing in our next generation through education,” he wrote later on his Facebook page.
The trip also saw Dr Balakrishnan calling on Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, Foreign Minister, Damcho Dorji, and Minister for Economic Affairs, Lyonpo Leki Dorji. The officials discussed the Kingdom’s priorities for the country via capacity-building, and the areas Singapore could contribute to Bhutan’s development. During the meetings, Dr Balakrishnan also announced a training programme that would be run by SingHealth (Singapore Health Services), catering to Bhutanese healthcare professionals in the emergency medicine sector, as well as a clinical attachment for Ear, Nose and Throat doctors.
These networking sessions were varied to include a mixture of official visits – such as a hosted tour of the National Assembly of Bhutan, as well as relaxed lunch sessions and a memorable dinner by bonfires. Dr Balakrishnan later shared on social media about how “small states like ours have much to gain from working together and sharing our best practices”.
Dr Balakrishnan also took the opportunity to catch up with Singaporeans working and residing in Bhutan, where he was later hosted to a warm home cooked dinner spread of delicious local fares.
No visit to the world’s Last Shangri-La is complete without a trek up the Kingdom’s national treasure: The Paro Taktsang – which was exactly what the Singaporean delegates did on their final day in Bhutan. Describing the climb up the 325-year old monastery as “exhausting but exhilarating”, Dr Balakrishnan’s Facebook account shared his interaction with the monastery’s Lama, photos of the trek’s breathtaking views and the fellow Singaporeans his team met along the way.
For his trip to Bhutan, Dr Balakrishnan took a direct flight from Singapore to Paro on Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines. Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines. Drukair, the national flag carrier of the Kingdom of Bhutan, flies thrice weekly from Singapore to the Happiness Kingdom in the world.
Check out Drukair's flight schedule here or visit Drukair's Singapore website for the latest offers.
Dr Balakrishnan and his team spent 4 days in Bhutan for their official trip, check out what to do in Bhutan in 4 days with Druk Asia, the official representative of Drukair in Singapore.